Ranking the NY Giants' Top 5 Sleepers to Watch in Camp
One of the things that make NFL training camps so fun to watch is that often, that’s were stars are born.
Just ask the New York Giants. Who could forget how, in 2010, a little-known receiver out of UMass by the name of Victor Cruz, a guy whom many (including yours truly) thought was camp fodder, became a key part of the team’s foundation?
The Giants are hoping that some obscure name, be it an undrafted rookie or a veteran who hasn’t played much to date or who is on the downside of his career, will step up and be their next Cruz.
It’s a tall task, as players such as Cruz don’t fall off trees. Still, there are guys who have that opportunity to emerge from the shadows and be significant contributors in 2014.
Let’s see who they are.
5. Tight End Larry Donnell
Although there is no clear-cut leader in the Giants’ race for tight end, it’s probably a safe bet to assume at least two of the players from the current group of five will make the 53-man roster.
One man who could very well be among the group that makes it and who could go on to contribute is Larry Donnell, who is entering his second season.
Despite losing all of last spring to a broken leg, an occurrence that Donnell told me set him back in his development, he was still ready to play for the Giants, appearing in all but one game on offense in spot duty.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Donnell allowed just two quarterback hurries in his 107 snaps, which is not too bad for a blocker.
Where Donnell had his struggles, though, was in running his routes, as he oftentimes rounded out his routes and was not where he was supposed to be. He finished with three receptions (out of six pass targets) for 31 yards and a long of 11 yards.
If Donnell, who of the tight ends currently on the roster has experience playing the multiple roles that Ben McAdoo will apparently be looking for from his tight ends, can do a better job with his route running, he could see more than his fair share of snaps this season.
4. Defensive Tackle Markus Kuhn
Defensive tackle Markus Kuhn has become a bit of a forgotten man.
That’s certainly understandable considering that as a rookie, Kuhn suffered an ACL tear, an injury that, because it was suffered so late in the 2012 season (November) caused him to miss the ensuing spring.
By training camp last year, Kuhn was placed on the PUP list, where he ended up staying for the start of the season.
Now that he’s almost two years removed from ACL surgery, Kuhn is hoping that his hard work in the weight room this past spring allows him to show the coaches what he can do.
So far, so good for the 28-year-old Kuhn.
“He had an outstanding offseason, really outstanding practices,” defensive line coach Robert Nunn told reporters. “He showed up every day. When we go out there and go in team situations Markus was, there wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t call his name out in a positive manner.”
All of Kuhn’s patience and hard work could very well pay off for him this summer, as Nunn said that the 6’4”, 303-pound Kuhn is potentially looking at a decent workload this summer.
“He and [Johnathan] Hankins—they’ll definitely get more reps in training camp than Mike [Patterson] and Cullen [Jenkins] if everything goes as planned,” Nunn said.
If Kuhn can make the most of those snaps, it’s very possible that he could move ahead of third-round pick Jay Bromley on the depth chart by the time the regular season begins.
3. Cornerback Zack Bowman
How deep is the Giants’ cornerback position right now?
The five players projected to make the roster—Prince Amukamara, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, Trumaine McBride and Zack Bowman—have combined for 152 NFL starts (out of 298 games played).
Included in that figure is Bowman’s 22 starts (out of 73 games) for the Chicago Bears, dating back to 2008, a defense that Giants cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta described to me as being “a very good defense.”
To put Bowman’s numbers into perspective, he has five fewer starts than Amukamara and just one less start than McBride and Thurmond combined.
So what does this mean for him going forward, assuming he stays healthy and makes the team?
Bowman’s primary role with the Giants will be as a special teams player. However, given his size—he’s 6’1” and 196 pounds—he could eventually see some snaps as part of the team’s dime package.
If injuries should hit the cornerbacks, as was the case last year, the Giants can take some comfort in the fact that their fourth and fifth corners have starting experience.
2. Linebacker Devon Kennard
If there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud that is linebacker Jon Beason’s foot injury, it’s that youngsters such as fifth-round draft pick Devon Kennard are going to get more snaps this summer than initially planned.
That can only be good for the former USC linebacker in his quest to gain confidence in performing both the inside and outside linebacker roles in the defense.
In the springtime, Kennard drew praise from the coaches for the progress he has made in such a short period.
“For a young rookie...he was able to retain a lot of that information and go out on the field and execute and earn some of the trust of his fellow teammates and the trust of his coaches,” said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
“When you have a young man that’s like that—and we have several young rookies like that—then you try to get them as many reps as you can...will determine how much you can play him, but so far we really like what we see from a mental standpoint and a physical one.”
Don’t be surprised, then, to see Kennard eventually carve out a niche for himself once Beason returns from his injury.
The most likely scenario for Kennard could be as a goal-line and short-yardage linebacker, roles held in the past by Mark Herzlich, who is in a battle to keep his roster spot.
If Kennard can excel on special teams, he should be able to beat out Herzlich and gain snaps on the defense in certain situations.
1. Offensive Lineman Brandon Mosley
The Giants offensive line is still far from being settled, and a big reason for that is the cloud that surrounds right guard Chris Snee’s status.
Snee, of course, missed the bulk of the spring practices with an issue related to offseason elbow surgery.
In a radio interview last month with WFAN, general manager Jerry Reese hinted that Snee would soon have a decision to make regarding whether to press forward with his comeback attempt from season-ending hip and elbow surgery or to step away from the game.
If Snee can’t go, someone to keep an eye on this summer is third-year offensive lineman Brandon Mosley, who, up until this point, has been derailed by injuries, but who, when having played, has shown flashes of possessing the traits to become a steady offensive lineman.
Mosley filled in for Snee with the starting unit, and while one can’t fully evaluate the offensive line when the team is not in pads, Mosley never really appeared to be out of place or overwhelmed with his assignments.
“Brandon is really in his second year,” said Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty. “His first year he was on IR. He was with us in training camp, and then he had his foot operated on and he was put on injury reserve, so he missed a year of football activity.
“Last year...he was progressing very well, and then when he had the opportunity to really take the bull by the horn against Detroit, he went against a good football player and was really battling pretty good and then he broke his hand.”
Flaherty praised Mosley for showing improvement during the spring.
“I see improvement on a daily basis, I really do,” the coach said.
If Mosley can continue to improve and stay out of the trainer’s room, he could very well find himself with a starting role.